Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The 2012 State of Cycling Report

 
The MTA's annual Collision Reports and Transportation Fact Sheets are well done. They are succinct and full of useful information on traffic in San Francisco. Their State of Cycling reports are a different story. They're written in clunky, repetitive prose and apparently not proofed before they're published. Odd that an agency with 5,000 employees doesn't have anyone to proofread these documents.
 
The State of Cycling reports are also apparently written to advocate for cycling more than to provide facts, since there are pro-bike quotes and advocacy in the text, and almost all the actual information is already available in other MTA reports.
 
Streetsblog calls the latest State of Cycling Report a "five-year" report, though the last one came out in 2008.
 
Comparing the 2008 San Francisco State of Cycling Report with the 2012 San Francisco State of Cycling Report turns up some significant differences in the numbers. The 2008 report claimed that "six percent of all trips in San Francisco are completed by bicycle" and "128,000 bicycle trips [are]made each day in San Francisco" (page 9). The latest report scales those numbers back radically to only 3.5% of all trips and "approaching 75,000 bike trips per day in the city" (page 3).
 
What happened to all those bike trips? Apparently an independent study by a consultant provided a reality-check on the inflated estimates in the 2008 report: the Mode Share Survey 2011 by Conory, Caparany and Galanis. This report told the city that only 3.4% of all trips in the city are by bicycle, and the total daily trips by bike is only 73,071, not 128,000 (page 6). (Can 73,071 be characterized as "approaching" 75,000? Seems like MTA's impulse to exaggerate cycling in the city is unchecked.)
 
The latest State of Cycling report cites the Census Bureau's American Community Survey figures several times but in different terms: On page 3 it's cited showing that from 2002 to 2010 "work trips" by bike increased from 2.1% to 3.5%. On page 6 the ACS is cited for those percentages again but from 2005 to 2010, while on page 13 the same percentages are attributed to ACS between 2006 and 2010.
 
Playing the percentage game: On page 13 we read that "the overall travel to work mode split for bicycling in San Francisco has grown from 2.1% in 2006 to 3.5% in 2010, or a 66% increase." 2.1 is 60% of 3.5, but the increase is still only 1.4% in five years, a .28% increase per year.
 
When you look at the MTA's latest Transportation Fact Sheet, the 2.1% actually goes back to 2000, which means that commuting by bike has only increased by 1.4% in ten years, a paltry .14% a year (page 4).
 
Not surprisingly you don't hear the MTA and the bike lobby crowing that "Cycling in San Francisco has increased by 1.4% since 2000." (Speaking of proofreading, the Fact Sheet has the 1.4% increase incorrectly as a gain of "1.9%").
 
But if 3.5% represents both bike commuters and all bike trips in the city, one of the numbers must be wrong. All trips by bike have to be more than the narrower commute trips number. Since the Mode Share Survey found that only 3.5% of all trips in the city are by bike, the original 2.1% in 2000 must have been inaccurate, that is, much lower than that to begin with.
 
In its story on the document, Streetsblog doesn't do this kind of analysis---or any real analysis at all. It just worries that the great bike revolution isn't happening fast enough:
 

The SFMTA is working on a strategy to reach the city’s goal of increasing bicycling to 20 percent of all trips by the year 2020, but its release seems to have been delayed for months. That goal, set by the Board of Supervisors in October 2010, has been criticized as lofty---as the SF Bay Guardian pointed out, it would require a 571 percent increase in ridership over the next seven years.

Yes, the Guardian's Steve Jones---a smart guy hobbled by BikeThink---noticed the obvious implausibility of the dumb 20% by 2020 goal, which is nothing but a slogan, not the basis for a realistic traffic policy. The strategy has been "delayed" probably because even the pro-bike Big Thinkers in MTA understand that 20% is literally impossible to achieve on the streets of San Francisco. The MTA board has okayed separated bike lanes on Masonic Avenue between Fell Street and Geary Blvd., but that project will take away 167 parking spaces in a neighborhood where street parking is already scarce---and it's not scheduled to happen for several years. I suspect that even the anti-car zealots on the MTA board are a little anxious as to how that project will go down with people in the neighborhoods, in spite of all their "community outreach."
 
Streetsblog quotes approvingly Leah Shahum, Joel Ramos, and an MTA official on the idea of separated and "protected" bike lanes---as does the State of Cycling Report---to make riding a bike more "comfortable" for potential cyclists. But of course no one specifies which streets in San Francisco have enough space to do that because there aren't any---or none where people on bikes actually want/need to ride.
 
"Joél Ramos, an SFMTA board member who visited Copenhagen with agency staff to explore bicycle planning practices, urged the agency to move forward with implementing protected bike lanes." 
 
Wonder how much that junket cost city taxpayers.
 
The MTA official: “If we build it, they will come, but we’re not really building it."
 
To "build" separated bike lanes---just like making unseparated bike lanes---will require taking away either traffic lanes or street parking on busy city streets.
 
I think the city's bike people are already the most unpopular special interest group in San Francisco. Tearing up busy city streets to make bike lanes---making traffic worse for everyone---just to make an undetermined number of potential cyclists more "comfortable" riding bikes in the city is a dubious idea with uncertain political consequences. 
 
Like Critical Mass and the Bicycle Plan itself, city voters should get a chance to decide whether this is a good idea, but City Hall will ensure that the people of San Francisco never get a chance to vote on any of these "improvements" to their streets.

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